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- The Right of Way, Volume 1. - 2/13 -
word. All I had meant not to say would not be said after the book was written. I asked them to take exactly the same view of Charley and Rosalie as they would in real life regarding two human beings with whom they were acquainted, and concerning whom, to their minds, there was sufficient evidence, or not sufficient evidence, to come to a conclusion as to what their relations were. I added that, as in real life we used our judgment upon such things with a reasonable amount of accuracy, I asked them to apply that judgment to Charley Steele and Rosalie Evanturel. They and their story were there for eyes to see and read, and when I had ended my manuscript in the year 1900 I had said the last word I ever meant to say as to their history. The controversy therefore continues, for the book still makes its appeal to an ever increasing congregation of new readers.
But another kind of letter came to me--the letter of some man who had just such a struggle as Charley Steele, or whose father or brother or friend had had such a struggle. Letters came from clergymen who had preached concerning the book; from men who told me in brief their own life problems and tragedies. These letters I prize; most of them had the real thing in them, the human truth.
That the book drew wide attention to the Dominion of Canada, particularly to French Canada, and crystallised something of the life of that dear Province, was a deep pleasure to me; and I was glad that I had been able to culminate my efforts to portray the life of the French-Canadian as I saw it, by a book which arrested the attention of so comprehensive a public.
I have seen many statements as to the original of Charley Steele, but I have never seen a story which was true. Many people have told me that they had seen the original of Charley Steele in an American lawyer. They knew he was the original, because he himself had said so. The gentleman was mistaken; I have never seen him. As with the purple cow, I never hope to see him. Whoever he is or whatever he is, the original Charley was an abler and a more striking man. I knew him as a boy, and he died while I was yet a boy, taking with him, save in the memory of a few, a rare and wonderful, if not wholly lovable personality. For over twenty years I had carried him in my mind, wondering whether, and when, I should-make use of him. Again and again I was tempted, but was never convinced that his time had come; yet through all the years he was gaining strength, securing possession of my mind, and gathering to him, magnet-like, the thousand observations which my experience sent in his direction. In my mind his life-story ended with his death at the Cote Dorion. For years and years I saw his ending there. Yet it all seemed to me so futile, despite the wonder of his personality, that I could make nothing of him, and though always fascinated by his character I was held back from exploiting it, because of the hopelessness of it all. It led nowhere. It was the 'quid refert' of the philosopher, and I could not bring myself to get any further than an interrogation mark at the end of a life which was all scepticism, mind and matter, and nothing more.
There came a day, however, when that all ended, when the doors were flung wide to a new conception of the man, and of what he might have become. I was going to America, and I paid an angry and reluctant visit to my London tailor thirty-six hours before I was to start. A suit of clothes had been sent home which, after an effective trying-on, was a monstrosity. I went straight to my tailor, put on the clothes and bade him look at them. He was a great tailor-he saw exactly what I saw, and what I saw was bad; and when a tailor will do that, you may be quite sure he is a good and a great man. He said the clothes were as bad as they could be, but he added: "You shall have them before you sail, and they shall be exactly as you want them. I'll have the foreman down." He rang a bell. Presently the door swung open and in stepped a man with an eyeglass in his eye. There, with a look at once reflective and penetrating, with a figure at once slovenly and alert, was a caricature of Charley Steele as I had known him, and of all his characteristics. There was such a resemblance as an ugly child in a family may have to his handsome brother. It was Charley Steele with a twist--gone to seed. Looking at him in blank amazement, I burst out: "Good heavens, so you didn't die, Charley Steele! You became a tailor!"
All at once the whole new landscape of my story as it eventually became, spread out before me. I was justified in waiting all the years. My discontent with the futile end of the tale as I originally knew it and saw it was justified. Charley Steele, brilliant, enigmatic and epigrammatic, did not die at the Cote Dorion, but lived in that far valley by Dalgrothe Mountain, and became a tailor! So far as I am concerned he became much more. He was the beginning of a new epoch in my literary life. I had got into subtler methods, reached more intimate understandings, had come to a place where analysis of character had shaken itself free--but certainly not quite free--from a natural yet rather dangerous eloquence.
As a play The Right of Way, skilfully and sympathetically dramatised by Mr. Eugene Presbery, has had a career extending over several years, and still continues to make its appearance.
It should not be assumed that the "Chaudiere" of this story is the real Chaudiere of Quebec province. The name is characteristic, and for this reason alone I have used it.
I must also apologise to my readers for appearing to disregard a statement made in 'The Lane that Had no Turning', that that tale was the last I should write about French Canada. In explanation I would say that 'The Lane that Had no Turning' was written after the present book was finished.
THE RIGHT OF WAY
By Gilbert Parker
I. THE WAY TO THE VERDICT II. WHAT CAME OF THE TRIAL III. AFTER FIVE YEARS IV. CHARLEY MAKES A DISCOVERY V. THE WOMAN IN HELIOTROPE VI. THE WIND AND THE SHORN LAMB VII. "PEACE, PEACE, AND THERE IS NO PEACE!" VIII. THE COST OF THE ORNAMENT
"They had lived and loved, and walked and worked in their own way, and the world went by them. Between them and it a great gulf was fixed: and they met its every catastrophe with the Quid Refert? of the philosophers."
"I want to talk with some old lover's ghost, Who lived before the god of love was born."
"There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification."
THE WAY TO THE VERDICT
"Not guilty, your Honour!"
A hundred atmospheres had seemed pressing down on the fretted people in the crowded court-room. As the discordant treble of the huge foreman of the jury squeaked over the mass of gaping humanity, which had twitched at skirts, drawn purposeless hands across prickling faces, and kept nervous legs at a gallop, the smothering weights of elastic air lifted suddenly, a great suspiration of relief swept through the place like a breeze, and in a far corner of the gallery a woman laughed outright.
The judge looked up reprovingly at the gallery; the clerk of the court angrily called "Silence!" towards the offending corner, and seven or eight hundred eyes raced between three centres of interest--the judge, the prisoner, and the prisoner's counsel. Perhaps more people looked at the prisoner's counsel than at the prisoner, certainly far more than looked at the judge.
Never was a verdict more unexpected. If a poll had been taken of the judgment of the population twenty-four hours before, a great majority would have been found believing that there was no escape for the prisoner, who was accused of murdering a wealthy timber merchant. The minority would have based their belief that the prisoner had a chance of escape, not on his possible innocence, not on insufficient evidence, but on a curious faith in the prisoner's lawyer. This minority would not have been composed of the friends of the lawyer alone, but of outside spectators, who, because Charley Steele had never lost a criminal case, attached to him a certain incapacity for bad luck; and of very young men, who looked upon him as the perfect pattern of the person good to see and hard to understand.
During the first two days of the trial the case had gone wholly against the prisoner, who had given his name as Joseph Nadeau. Witnesses had heard him quarrelling with the murdered man, and the next day the body of the victim had been found by the roadside. The prisoner was a stranger in the lumber-camp where the deed was done, and while there had been morose and lived apart; no one knew him; and he refused to tell even his lawyer whence he came, or what his origin, or to bring witnesses from his home to speak for his character.
One by one the points had been made against him--with no perceptible effect upon Charley Steele, who seemed the one cool, undisturbed person in the courtroom.
Indifferent as he seemed, seldom speaking to the prisoner, often looking out of the windows to the cool green trees far over on the hill, absorbed and unbusinesslike, yet judge and jury came to see, before the second day was done, that he had let no essential thing pass, that the questions he asked had either a pregnant aptness, opened up new avenues of deliberation, or were touched with mystery--seemed to have a longer reach than the moment or the hour.
Before the end of this second day, however, more attention was upon him than upon the prisoner, and nine-tenths of the people in the court-room could have told how many fine linen handkerchiefs he used during the
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